It's not unusual for a state champion team to be celebrated in its hometown. After all, it's not every day that a title comes to town. That being said, the hullabaloo surrounding the Rialto (Calif.) High girls basketball team seems to be a bit premature, for one significant reason: The Knights haven't won the California Interscholastic Federation Division II state crown yet.
According to the Riverside Press Enterprise, Rialto's girls team is already booked for a day of spa treatments in Sacramento, where the team's state final against Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary's School will be held. The Knights are also planning a visit to the California state Capitol building, where they'll be hosted by Rialto Mayor Joe Baca Jr.
All of these activities are in good fun, and all are well deserved. The question is whether they might also be distracting a team from what should prove to be its toughest test of the season. Rialto's championship game opponent, St. Mary's, has won four consecutive state titles, and the Rams show no signs of slowing now. In all, St. Mary's has won nine sectional titles in the past 11 years.
Adding to the state atmosphere is lingering controversy surrounding Rialto's sectional championship victory -- the Knights only got a chance to win thanks to a widely disputed charging call against a Ventura (Calif.) Buena High player with 2.8 seconds remaining, which you can see above -- and the euphoric feeling of winning both the region and sectional titles on buzzer beating shots by star Janae' Sharpe. Put all those factors together, and it's easy to see why some feel that Rialto is just happy to be in the championship game, regardless of result.
So, are the spa treatments -- which come courtesy of the Rialto assistant coaches -- and the Capitol tour premature, or are they coming ahead of time because Rialto knows its odds of taking home the state crown aren't too hot? Either explanation is possible, though Rialto coach Michael Anderson made it clear that there would be plenty of Rialto supporters to neutralize a geographic home court advantage for St. Mary's, regardless of his team's underdog status.
"We have strong backing," Anderson told the Press Enterprise. "And win or lose the festivities are going to continue. We'll have a banner (for the gymnasium wall) and a ring ceremony.
"It's been crazy and fun. I knew we had a good team, but this has been like a dream come true for the coaches and players. It's like a fantasy."
Come Friday evening, Anderson and his players will learn if the fantasy gets a fairy tale ending.